Family Matters

Love Isn’t Color-Blind: White Online Daters Spurn Blacks

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Interracial romance is nowhere near the eyebrow-raising phenomenon it used to be. In the past four decades, the pendulum of approval has swung from three-to-one opposed to three-to-one in favor. But though love may be blind, it’s still not really color-blind. New stats from more than 1 million online daters show that whites mostly stick with whites and rarely respond to overtures from potential black love interests.

Young, black men, on the other hand, were most likely to throw themselves wide-open into the romantic fray and were willing to date all races, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley. They took a look at racial preferences and online communications of people who subscribed between 2009 and 2010 to a major Web-based dating service that they agreed to not name.

Subscribers indicated a racial preference in their cyber-profile, tailoring their profiles to reflect a desire to date people only of the same race, of another race or of any race. Using their profiles, researchers compared their stated racial preferences with the races of the people they ended up contacting. (More on The Authentic Self: How Do You Know If You’re ‘Really’ Racist or Sexist?)

“The Internet has changed things,” says Jerry Mendelsohn, a U.C. Berkeley psychologist who led the study. “There is no segregation on the Internet. So the question then becomes, When you have a free situation where people can contact whom they please, what will happen?”

Taken as a group, whites, women and older people were choosiest about sticking with others of their color. More than four of five whites contacted other whites, while just 3% reached out to blacks. The ratios stayed the same for young and older people, too — 80% chose not to contact others from outside their race. And only 5% of white subscribers responded to inquiries from someone from another race.

What about people who said they were indifferent? For whites who claimed to be, about 80% still contacted whites. Blacks who said they were color-blind when it comes to Cupid were more likely to contact a white than to contact a black. (More on Passing as Black: How Biracial Americans Choose Identity)

“Were they hypocritical? Alert to the realities of the social world? Striving for political correctness? Attempting an optimizing strategy of self-presentation? Our data do not permit us to choose among those alternatives,” the authors wrote.

The findings, which the authors are in the process of submitting for publication, are significant because Internet dating has become such a linchpin of modern-day romance. About one in five Americans has tried online dating, be it eHarmony of match-making via Facebook.

Time was, it was embarrassing to admit you met your significant other through a dating site; now it’s almost expected. In fact, the researchers reported that the percentage of couples who connected online is now nearly on par with those who met the old-fashioned way, though friends or family. (More on Will Facebook Steal Online Dating Sites’ Girl?)

But as acceptable as online dating and inter-racial dating have ostensibly become, those looking for love are still sticking with those who look like them. U.S. Census data from 2000 shows that black-white couples make up just 1% of American marriages. Most frequent inter-racial couplings? Black hubby and white wife.

And even black subscribers preferred black partners. Although they were ten times as likely to contact whites as whites were to contact blacks, overall, blacks sent online inquiries to people of their own race more often.

Why are blacks more willing to take a chance on white folk? Mendelsohn speculates that blacks are simply acting like minority populations of any kind, trying to meld into the dominant structure. One of the best ways to do that, he contends, is through intermarriage. (More on Seeking My Race-Based Valentine Online)

“Because of the particular history of black-white relations in U.S. history, whites are reluctant to go along with it,” he says. “I don’t think this is a simple question of racism.”

For the average white person, he says, there is no advantage to becoming involved with a black person, and there are disadvantages. “You will have trouble with family, with friends, and every time you go to a restaurant people will be looking at you. So you think, Why bother?” says Mendelsohn.

“Segregation, it seems, is sort of built into the social scene for the time being.”

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